Snapshot: Finding Rest

Finding a way to rest and relax here in Niamey is extremely difficult. Just try to imagine a city without lovely parks or quiet places to take long walks. Imagine a sprawling, dusty city without coffee shops where it is comfortable to simply relax and read a book or have a date. We live in a rather noisy, dirty city where you are always being watched (because you are white), and entertainment options are little to none.

But we realize that we still need to rest and be refreshed. The work we do here is difficult and stressful, so our bodies and spirits need respite. This is a snapshot about how we found a way to do this!

About two hours outside of the capital city of Niamey (where we live), there is a large recreational park, called “Parc W”. It borders the Niger River and boasts the only “safari-like” experience of this country.

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With our Christmas break being so long, we decided to venture away from the city for a few days for refreshment. A group of missionary friends came too – we were quite the international group! There were Americans (us), 2 Australian families, 1 Norwegian family, and 1 Korean family!

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Our entourage: Americans, Koreans, Norwegians and Australians!

If you have heard about African safaris, Parc W is nothing like that. Niger’s landscape and animals are quite different. (I’m including lots of pictures so you can get the idea.) Though this place is nothing that National Geographic will boast about, we found it beautiful, tranquil, and a true respite for our bodies and souls.

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Sunset on the Niger River

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Were were required by law to hire two guides as we drove through through the Parc. They would help us see wildlife, if there was any.

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This is where we stopped for a picnic.

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Ruth and Youna

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“Really mom, you want a picture right now?”

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A boat was needed to cross to the island where we were going to stay.

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We all fit! Amazing!

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Our guide was bailing water the entire time, though – a bit unsettling considering there are hippos everywhere!

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Did I say hippos? Well, we immediately met this group of hippos as we were on our way to the island!

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Arriving at the island, you can see a lovely patio, welcoming us to relax and enjoy ourselves.

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The eco-lodges, like this one, were interspersed throughout the island. They have two beds per unit, an eco-toilet and even a little shower! It certainly isn’t rugged camping…I think we can safely call it “glamping”. (fancy camping)

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This is the iconic Baobob tree – plentiful on this island.

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Exploring was fun for all of the kids!

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Serious climbers there 🙂

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Playing games for those who didn’t go on the hike that day.

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Our hostess, a woman from France, had this “Christmas tree” set up since we were there just days before Christmas. 

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Morning coffee and a delicious breakfast.

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Andy and I took a private boat ride for two hours one afternoon – just to enjoy the tranquility of the river and hopefully to see some animals.

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We didn’t actually see many animals, but we witnessed the quiet village life along the river.

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A lovely woman, taking care of her daily work.

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I managed to capture a shot of this little monkey!

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Here are the ladies, enjoying some conversation.

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Each night, we experienced a bonfire like no other! Our friend, Minsung, made it his goal to “wow” us with his fire-building skills!

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And finally, a family picture before we left the island.

We are so thankful for this getaway! We were blessed with the cool weather, great time with friends, and the peace of God in a truly dry and desolate country.

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Snapshot: Our last-minute New Year’s Eve Party

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We hosted a last-minute party for New Year’s Eve – which is WAY out of character for us. (Usually we are in bed before midnight on December 31st!) It all happened so fast we didn’t have time to think about it carefully.

Our church called on the 29th.

Pastor Jeremie informed us that all the small groups were celebrating New Year’s together in their individual groups.

We, being brand new small group leaders for our neighborhood, were in charge of hosting a party.

Voila! A party must be planned.

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We quickly called the only two people we knew for sure were in our small group, and asked them to help (rescue) us.

They knew right away what was needed: text/call everyone, plan a snack to share at midnight, and make a plan for worship, prayer and a message.

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Here I am with Fanta, putting together the meat sandwiches which we were going to hand out at midnight. She did all the shopping and preparation and we simply paid for it. Her husband, Soumana, contacted everyone on the list. Andy planned for the “program”. I was just kinda stressed about having enough space in our little home!

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People started arriving at 10:00 p.m. (Don’t worry – Andy and I drank some coffee around 8!) And I am happy to say that everything went quite well. We met so many new people and it gave us fresh excitement about leading the weekly small group.

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The party died down around 1:00 a.m. and we crashed! Who knew that these Nigeriennes would bring out the party animals in us?

We pray that your New Year 2018 is off to a great start! God bless you!

Christmas Love

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Sending our Christmas love to you from this side of the world! Thank you for being a part of our life here through your love and encouragement. We are sustained by the love of Jesus for all of us, and by our relationships with you.

We pray that you will experience the joy of His Presence during the holidays. We love you!

Love, Andrew, Nikki, Nathaniel, Jonathan and Ruth

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Snapshot: Women!

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I have always loved being part of groups of women. Living in Niger, building relationships with local people is one of our major goals during this first year, so I knew that finding the groups of women would be an important way for me to culturally integrate.

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Our church has a group of women who meet on Saturdays – they call themselves “Les Femmes Vertueuses” (which means, “the Virtuous women”), taken from the well-known passage in Proverbs 31 in the Bible.

This group was really intimidating for me to join, mainly because my conversational French was still so terrible last summer that I simply didn’t think I could do it! But deep in my heart I just knew I was supposed to go, as if it was an open door from the Lord for me to walk through. So I swallowed my pride and fear, and I went.

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What I found was a beautiful group of very eclectic ladies, who all desire to be excellent as wives, mothers, and daughters. Some are well-educated and well-dressed, and others are poor and simple. Some are outgoing and some are shy. Some have pain on their countenance, while others seem indefatigable.

They are usually at least 30 minutes late – even the leader of the group! – (though they won’t change the starting time). Our meetings include singing songs in both French and Hausa, sharing a bit from God’s word, and praying. These ladies are champions! They’ve been patient, kind, and opened their arms to allow me to be part of their special group.

One major milestone happened in August. We had been practicing the same song quite a bit for a few weeks, and one day the ladies started talking about “the wedding”. I came to find out that we were going to sing this song at the wedding! Wow! And I found out that we needed to have special outfits made to match (husbands’ outfits too! See photo), and that they really wanted me to sing one of the solos.

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Wait, what? I am not afflicted with false modesty when I say that my singing days are over, at least in the solo sense! I was not looking forward to this! I tried to get out of it, but they were so excited and I think they really wanted me to feel “in”, so I said yes.

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(Picture above is our last-minute rehearsal before the wedding)

Well, the wedding just happened to be the wedding of the decade in Niamey! About 400 people were there! (That is  a huge wedding around here!) I was really scared! But I just prayed for courage and WENT FOR IT. (You can view the unbearably long video here if have nothing to do for 8 minutes! My part in the song doesn’t happen until about 2/3 through…)

This wedding experience truly broke through the proverbial ice in my relationships with the ladies. Now, they affectionately call me “la Blanche” (the white woman), and I am part of the choir. My conversational French has grown leaps and bounds as well!

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Last week, the ladies asked Andy and I to teach one night of their two-night “Annual Celebration of Women”. The theme was “building healthy families” and it was truly an honor to receive this invitation. (The other speaker was the president of all of the Christian churches in Niger!) We shared the basic principles of building a healthy Christian marriage, and everything went so well.

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I am amazed. I look back on this experience – breaking through my fears, following through when I felt led to do something, and seeing the rewards – and I am truly humbled. Courage and obedience are a powerful combination.

Is there something YOU have been hesitant to do? Why not step out and trust those deep-down instincts, and perhaps God has some surprise blessings for you!

Our “office”

I’ve been told that there is not one single counseling office in Niamey, maybe even in all of Niger! Well, if that is true, then I am happy to share with you that we have just created the very first.

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The home we are renting is not large, but the property is pretty big, with lots of trees and places for me to plant flowers and bushes. It also has a small “out building” – meaning, there is a fully finished building that is not connected to the house. Many years ago it was used as an office, but when we arrived it was very run-down and simply being used as a storage space.

About a month ago we decided that it was time to make use of that great space! We hired a local guy to come and replace the windows and rotten window sills, take out the non-functioning water cooler, patch up the walls, repair the mosquito netting on the windows and give it all a new paint job.

Voila!

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Now we have a private place to meet with couples and individuals. It is peaceful and lovely and we are so very thankful!

Already we have been able to share it with others in creative ways! One couple, who we’ve been meeting with for a couple of months now, needed a place to spend about two hours just talking through one of our assignments. Going to a restaurant was going to be difficult for them so we bought some cokes and invited them to use our meeting room for their “date”.

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Also, on Thursday nights a group of young men from the university come to this special room to pray together.

It may seem like a small thing, but I believe this place is going to be a blessing in the lives of many people.

Snapshot: A visit to “God’s Well”

This is not the usual thing for an ordinary citizen to have in their front yard around here.

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But with Jesus Christ in your heart, a person can tend to dream big. God gives ideas that seem impossible. But if we can believe and not give up, we just might see those dreams come true!

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I’ve introduced you to my friend Hadiza before. (Though it has been awhile!) Hadiza and I met the first time we lived here in 2012-2013. She is truly a woman of faith! For this snapshot, I want to show you her most recent dream-come-true.

Hadiza dreamed of having clean water for her neighborhood. The nearest well is an open well, which means the water is dirty and anything at all could fall into it (animals included!) to contaminate it.

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The “open” well

This water causes sickness and is physically difficult to get enough daily water for each family in the whole neighborhood. The nearest clean water well is so far away that a person would need to have a donkey cart to carry the water such a long distance!

Until now.

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Hadiza prayed for God to give her a well. She mentioned this dream to a few people, but she had to wait quite a long time for it! She told me “I really want to have this well to share with my neighbors, and I can tell them that this is not my well, this is God’s well and He wants to bless us. I want this well to be a way to show people that God loves them! Of course these words flow out of her mouth and then she finishes with that gorgeous smile!

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This summer “God’s well” became a reality! With financial support from people in the USA, this well was installed and is a literal beacon of love to Hadiza’s neighborhood. (I am not even sure who they are – they wanted to be secret about it so God will receive all the glory. And also, so that the people here wouldn’t think this was a “white person’s well”… )

Hadiza told me that when they struck water and the first clean cup of water came out of the spout, they gave it to the oldest lady in the neighborhood. This muslim woman drank it and began dancing around and praising God!

Every day now, the people start arriving early in the morning to gather their clean water from God’s well.

So, I wonder what dreams God has given you and me? Let’s start BELIEVING!

Snapshot: Welcome to Church

Before I came to live in Niger, I had no idea what the church was going to be like. Did they meet in buildings? Did they have chairs or pews? What kind of music did they play? What instruments? Etc.

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Our songbook – “Be Joyful Always”

As you can probably guess, here in Niger there are all kinds of church families – denominations, sizes of churches (#’s of people), sizes and types of buildings, styles of worship and preaching…you get the idea. The Christian churches here are relatively young and undeveloped. I haven’t officially researched church-growth-facts-and-figures, but I can tell you that there is a beautiful simplicity to the church here. It’s not perfect, no way! There is plenty of room for growth – in fact, that is why we are here! We aren’t planting a new church. We came to encourage the believers who are already doing their best to live out their faith in this predominantly musl!m country.

I thought you might wonder what our church actually looks like here?

{For security reasons I am going to keep this description somewhat vague….I will share the photos but I will leave out names, location, etc.}

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The office and meeting room

 

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This is a little blurry (sorry!) but it is the whole building

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Inside the sanctuary during the service Sunday morning

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The choir! (They are amazing!)

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The band!

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Last Sunday we prayed for all the kids since they were heading back to school this week. (This made us think about that wonderful tradition at Christ Lutheran in Tacoma!)

 

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A page out of the songbook – we sing this song to end our service every week. Enter the words in to google translate & you might recognize this song from the 1990’s!

Well, that is just a snapshot for you – but now you can envision at least one of the church families here in Niamey.

I wonder if anything surprised you? Let me know! Or maybe this snapshot prompted some questions you have about the church here? Feel free to reply to this email, or send an email to nikkigray3@gmail.com.

Until next time – “soyez toujours joyeux“! (Be joyful always!)

 

Snapshot: Sahel Academy

The kids are back to school now, and I thought it was a good chance to give you a glimpse of Sahel Academy!

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On August 9th, Nathaniel started 10th grade (ten fingers), Jonathan 9th, and Ruth 7th – all of them at Sahel Academy (SA) here in Niamey.FullSizeRender (57)

SA is an International Christian School, grades K-12, with about 150 students. The students come from over 30 nations! Many are missionary kids, others live here because their families work at an embassy, for the US military, for an NGO (non-governmental organization), and some are local Nigeriens.

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The truth is – our family would not be able to serve here without this school for our kids. The teachers are Christian missionaries themselves, so the education our kids are receiving is coming from passionate, committed individuals. We are so thankful!

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Here is a link to a video Sahel Academy Video Link that was made recently – (it is 3.5 minutes long) – and you just might notice a silly red-haired girl who made it into the video! (Ruth) This is better than all of my random photos so I hope you have a chance to check it out!

Sidenote: Sahel Academy is always recruiting new teachers! Contact me if you are curious what that might look like! nikki.gray@sim.org

 

 

Snapshot: No small feat – Getting a driver’s license!

In the USA there are never-ending jokes about the long lines at the DMV (department of motor vehicles). Let it be known right now that NOTHING compares to the incredible (hassle) “experience” of getting a license here in Niger!

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We have used our temporary International Driver’s licenses since arrival, but the police – who pull people over often to check paperwork – do not like those…they want us to have the real license of Niger. Unfortunately, the process is entirely complicated! And recently they added even more requirements to the process, making it nearly impossible to acquire a Niger driver’s license.

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When we first lived here in 2012 – 2013 it took us nearly 8 months to obtain the Niger driver’s license, but when we left the country we had to turn it back in to the government (in order to receive back our USA licenses). When we returned in January 2017 we requested that they “find them” in the hopes that we wouldn’t have to go through the process again. Initially, they didn’t find them. Ugh! But last week – eight months later! – we received the good news that the old licenses had been found! Hooray!

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So here we are celebrating – with our colleague whose name is Constant. (He truly was thrilled about this “find” but we couldn’t get him to smile for the picture.)

We are thankful for every victory we experience here, and we have learned to take nothing for granted.